The nearest soldier of Vunthor’s forces stepped towards me and I just about passed out in front of him. It wasn’t accurate to say I was running on empty after the fight inside the Void storm only because running was completely out of the question.
“If you can’t run, then you’ve gotta fight,” Master Hanq had told me once or twice, and while it sounded like good advice at the time, I wasn’t sure it applied when I was too weak to take my hands off my waist.
“I guess I can break his fist by hitting it with my face several times,” I thought and prepared to give that plan my best effort when I noticed that more of the soldiers were coming towards me. That would have been terrifying but their expressions said “confused and bewildered” not “angry and out to kill me”.
“What happened to the Major?” the nearest one asked.
“He’s still in there,” I said, pointing to the slowly dwindling Void storm behind me. “Or what’s left of him is anyways.”
“Did you kill him?” another soldier asked.
“No, but last I saw he was doing a good job of killing himself.”
“Dammit, that’s not fair,” the first soldier complained.
“They were never going to bring him to trial,” Illya said. “This is all the justice that we can get.”
I scanned the faces of the soldiers around me. There were too few of them I noticed, only a couple dozen. Roughly half had fled the cavern during my fight with Vunthor. Probably as soon as I cut off the drain that he had on them. The ones who remained seemed like they were following Illya’s lead.
“You told them what he was doing to your people?” I asked her. “That he was the one behind the first attack on Salmon Falls?”
“And other places. I asked him about his other operations, and they all had the same story.” Illya said.
“We didn’t know,” one of the soldiers said.
“If that’s true, it will make a difference at your trial,” I said.
“Trial? But we’re the victims here!” the soldier said. “He was stealing the life right out of us.”
“I wasn’t kidding when I said you were under arrest,” I told the soldiers, hoping as I spoke that they couldn’t see how bad off I was. “But you’ll be tried in an Imperial court, by a jury that’s actually impartial and will actually listen to your side of the story too.”
“You can’t do that!” a soldier said.
“Oh, don’t worry, you’ll have company. Everyone involved in this will be up before a judicial review,” I said. “You can even come to my trial if you like and testify against me.”
“What?” Illya asked. “Why would you be on trial? What have you done wrong?”
“Nothing, according to me,” I said. “The court will want to review all of the facts before agreeing with that assessment though.”
“And you’re ok with that?” Illya asked.
“It’s kind of annoying, but I’ve been through one already a few months back,” I said. “The judges are good at getting at the truth, like supernaturally good at it, and once they’re done, I’ll have a clear name. Assuming that I’m right about not having done anything wrong.”
“What if you’re not?” a soldier asked.
“The Empire’s more about rehabilitation and restoration than revenge,” I said. “You all stayed around here. That will be a mark in your favor. If you’re willing to help out and proactively make up for what you’ve done, that will help too.”
“What’s to stop us from running now?” a soldier asked.
“Almost nothing,” I said. “As in there’s almost nothing out there except for giant monsters from beyond outer space. If you want to get lost in the wilderness and eaten by the local mega-fauna, then go right ahead. The rest of your friends will be enjoying hot showers and three meals a day while you play the nomadic survivalist who’s on the run from Imperial forces for the rest of your life.”
The Void storm spun to a halt and sputtered out as I spoke. Behind me I heard a thump and glanced back to see Vunthor’s withered corpse shattered on the ground.
“For however short a time that might be,” I added.
What came next is a bit of a blur for me. I remember the soldiers moving off in small groups to talk about their options. I remember Illya staying by my side and helping me out with a few healing spells which wound up cutting my recovering time down immensely.
That’s the part that sticks with me the most about the period after my final battle against Vunthor-Higgs. The quiet moments of talking with Illya. Her soft spoken apologies as she tended to my pain wracked body. The simple plans that she made for a future that had the spectre of a trial and possible incarceration looming over it.
We weren’t in a great position, either of us, but things were going to get better.
The funny thing about that was that while we were slumped against the corner of a wall in a cavern inside a mountain, there was still an army of transwarp monsters rampaging around the planet surface. I should have been concerned about that but I was so unbearably tired that the thought of being eaten or stepped on seemed more like a welcome relief than anything I could muster the energy to be afraid of.
I still had a little adrenaline left though. I discovered that when the top of the mountain was ripped off, exposing the cavern we were in to the bare sky above.
The sound of that much stone moving that close to me is something I never want to experience again in my life. On the positive side though, with the top of the mountain gone,Illya and I had a fantastic view of of the glowing Crystal Titan that stood taller than the mountain itself and was taking on the last giga-beast and its army of deca-beasts.
I must have blinked fifty times as I watched the Crystal Titan stride into battle like a warship given a human form and the scale of a god. When it struck the giga-beast the planet itself echoed like a gong. I’d thought Vunthor and I were throwing around an absurd amount of power but the Crystal Titan dwarfed all previous measures that I knew how to calibrate against.
My brain fuzzed out at the sheer scale of the conflict and it took minutes or hours or some unreal amount of time for me to process what I was seeing.
“They’re inside the crystals,” Illya said, pointing weakly at the Titan.
And she was right. The Titan wasn’t one giant crystal but rather an amalgamation of millions of crystals. Inside the larger crystals that made up the Titan’s vast body there were people. Humans. Garjarack. The Verulia crew. All of the people who’d come to Titanus. All protected by the Life Crystals, all fighting to protect the Life Crystals in turn. Millions of voices, elemental and physical people together, all striving as one towards a common goal. In the center of its forehead there was one special gem too. A brilliant blue one that glowed with the light of a newborn star. I didn’t need to distract her with a mental request to know Fari’s handiwork when I saw it. It was too beautiful to ever mistake for coming from anyone else.
In retrospect, I’m a little disappointed to have missed out on the brawl, even feeling as bad as I did. In part that’s because it was an event that defined the founding of the colony on Titanus, but mostly I regret missing the fight because both Darius and Fari got to tease me mercilessly about it afterwards.
In the end, I did get to help, but only after the Crystal Titan had laid such an epic smackdown on the transwarp beasts that there were going to be songs written about it for generations to come.
The fight was amazing both for its scale and its duration. The Crystal Titan was overwhelming powerful as it focused the energy of about 200,000 colonists and a million Life Crystals into a cohesive whole. Despite that advantage though, the transwarp beasts were difficult to put down permanently. They could simply regenerate from more damage that was even vaguely reasonable. In time the struggle turned from a battle, to a pest control operation. The transwarp beasts were easy to put down for the count but each time the count was up so were they and the Crystal Titan needed to stomp on them again.
Watching the fight, I finally worked out how Higgs had been controlling the beasts. It wasn’t a direct mind control thing. They were just very simple creatures and easy to manipulate. As animavores they headed towards whatever source of magic they could find and consumed it. Higgs, or the hate-thing Higgs had left behind, basically blinded them with a gossamer-thin veil of Void anima and then opened a pinhole for them to see out of.
From the transwarp beasts’ point of view it must have looked like all the food in existence disappeared with only a single spark left for them to pursue. Once Higgs was “disposed of”, the beasts had been faced with the Crystal Titan. I’m not sure if they rejoiced at that for the size of the meal it offered or if they were smart enough to be afraid of biting off more than they could chew. It was hard to tell because it wasn’t like the humans or the Garjarack were inclined to give beasts a chance to run away and regroup.
The few that did escape were the ones who confirmed my theory. Rather than hiding or circling around for a tactical advantage, they simply plodded over to the nearest source of anima they could find.
Or at least they tried to. As it turned out the only people who weren’t inside the Crystal Titan were the injured who had been left at the human colony ship’s crash sight. About a thousand deca-beasts were far enough away from the Crystal Titan that the lure of the humans at the crash sight drew them in instead.
The shared intelligence network that Fari and the other mental anima casters setup in the Titan was more than observant enough to notice that little problem before it could become a tragedy though.
Giant magi-mechs often need appropriate weapons to fight with. Forehead lasers and chest cannons are common but blazing anima blades are far and away the most potent option in their arsenal. What I hadn’t known before that fight was that blazing anima blades could also serve as thrown weapons.
A thousand deca-beasts is a lot of targets to take out, but when you can also telekinetically guide your blazing sword at ranges of several hundred miles away it doesn’t take all that long to scythe an army of hundreds down to the few dozen that were bright enough to flee from the glowing blade of doom the size of a skyscraper.
Once I figured out Higgs technique, I was able to join in the mop up operations, with a little support from Illya. The few other Void casters that were among the colonists joined me after I showed them what to do and together we led the giga-beast and all of the surviving deca-beasts to the nearest remaining portal to warp space.
Despite the fact that they’d kind of killed me once, I almost felt bad the giant terrors. The Crystal Titan had used the giga-beast as a therapy pillow to punch out some of anger and fear that the colonists had spent their entire lives dealing with. It wasn’t a magical cure for the rifts that divided them but as shared experiences went it wasn’t half bad either. Well, not half bad for the colonists, the giga-beast was looking in disturbingly poor shape as we flew it out of the atmosphere and to the portal.
By the time the Void caster brigade got back to the planet, the Life Crystals had separated back to their individual gems and released the people inside them. Humans and Garjarack who’d been meant to live thousands of miles apart were clustered in giant, army sized coalitions, all gathered in one place.
Master Hanq and the rest of the Imperial forces were there too, as was Verulia security, but they were so vastly outnumbered that their ability to keep the peace was effectively non-existent.
What kept the “Joint Encampment” (as it came to be called) peaceful was something much stronger than the Imperial edict Master Hanq, and Fari, and I carried. There was peace between the humans and the Garjarack because the people chose it.
That sounds stupidly simple, but like with a lot of things in life, that’s really all it took.
To be fair though, there were things that helped support that choice, not the least of which being that the Life Crystals helped maintain the mental communication web that everyone shared in the Crystal Titan. Being able to talk to one another, directly and immediately made a huge difference. With that in place the colonists were able to setup their own oversight committees with equal representation on both sides. They were the ones who handled security and who came up with the plans for how to salvage the colony ship remnants and form a viable city. The home they built on Titanus wasn’t one that we made for them or that was bought in exchange for the rights they’d held on Hellsreach. It was one they created by themselves and for themselves.
There were problems too of course, you can’t possibly have that many people in one place and not have problems, but they were ones that the people of the Encampment met together.
I, as usual it seemed, wasn’t too involved in that. Illya’s work helped heal me tremendously, but that meant I had a couple weeks of gentle healing to do rather than months of painful therapy. Given my track record as a Crystal Guardian so far that felt like an incredible achievement to me.
“I’m so torn,” Darius said as I was checked out of the field hospital that had been setup. “On the one hand, I’m glad you’re mended and I’m thinking we should celebrate your recovery.”
“And on the other we’re wondering if we should start the clock for your next extended hospital stay,” Fari said.
“Hey, I’m getting better!” I said. “Plus there’s no reason we can’t do both.”
I smiled at both of them and took off before they could drag me back to the medical bed.
“You want to tackle her while I find a doctor I can bribe into falsifying a medical report to get her grounded for another month?” Fari asked.
“I’d be delighted to!” Darius said and raced after me.